Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Father, son rivals in local puck battle

Harris clan will settle score in Voyageurs, Bulldogs tilt

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Churchill coach Mike Harris (left) will match wits with son Chris Harris, Louis Riel's goalie, when the schools meet on Wednesday.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Churchill coach Mike Harris (left) will match wits with son Chris Harris, Louis Riel's goalie, when the schools meet on Wednesday. Photo Store

Coach Mike Harris will lead the Churchill Bulldogs hockey team into battle on Wednesday, hungry for a chance to claw up the standings.

To win, they'll have to solve Harris' own kid.

It's a funny situation the father-son duo find themselves in, the elder Harris running the bench for the Bulldogs and his son Chris serving as the starting goaltender for the College Louis Riel Voyageurs. They're rivals in the Winnipeg High School Hockey League's Price Division now, as the Voyageurs made their return to the league after adding enough players to field a team this year.

'A lot of the players on my team know players from Churchill, which will make it fun, then they know my dad. So they'll probably be bugging him, too. Let's just hope he doesn't reveal my weak spots'

-- Louis Riel goalie Chris Harris

Yes, Churchill players are aware of the connection. So the coach will have a message for them before the puck drops: "'Let's go out there and beat them, or I'll never hear the end of it,'" Harris said with a laugh. "My team, they never lack for effort, so this will just give them a little bit more something to shoot for."

Or rather, to shoot at. While coach, perhaps, knows a few of his son's netminding tendencies -- years of knocking pucks around will build that familiarity -- Chris Harris is planning to bring his A game.

"I think we'll have a good chance of winning," the Grade 10 student said. "I think he's going to go hard on us, we'll see. A lot of the players on my team know players from Churchill, which will make it fun, then they know my dad. So they'll probably be bugging him, too. Let's just hope he doesn't reveal my weak spots."

That father and son are now on opposite sides of the ice is credit to a fresh infusion in the WHSHL.

There are 37 teams in the high school league now, with College Louis Riel and Kildonan East returning after brief absences, and Beliveau and Steinbach icing a squad for the first time.

That makes about 550 boys playing in their school colours this season, double what it was when WHSHL president Mark Miles first joined up in the early 1990s, when there were 18 high school teams.

"This is at a high point for sure," Miles said. "I think it's mostly just the concept of playing for the school. That aspect of team spirit is all-important to these kids. Once they're not drafted into, for instance, the Western (Hockey) League, they turn to high school hockey as an alternative."

The growth has helped push a more balanced league, Miles said, as coaches sort out where their squad best belongs.

Ten teams play in the WHSHL's top A division, 15 in its B division and 12 in the Price Division C group, with the latter showing improving competitive parity. As of Thursday, half its teams were over .500 in the standings. "It's really nice for the teams that have been there a long time," Miles said. "More teams are recognizing: Do you want to be a team that struggles in B, or a team that has a chance to win C?"

At College Louis Riel, Chris Harris has noticed a lot of back-and-forth among the Price Division teams, how a school will fall to a weaker club then roar back to beat a top squad. That said, his own team has been rolling steadily, sitting at a 10-1 record already despite having just returned to the league this year, as enough guys from AA decided to go the school route. "We're pretty good actually, so it all worked out," he said. "There's a lot of fans out there to watch. It's just more fun with guys from school."

melissa.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 13, 2013 C5

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